My Sister’s Keeper: Jessica Warman’s Beautiful Lies

A Review of Beautiful Lies by Jessica Warman

Walker, 2012

Beautiful Lies Jessica Warman

By REBECCA, September 28, 2012

characters

Alice: the artistic, intuitive sister who’s gotten in some trouble

Rachel: the rule-abiding, studious sister who’d do anything for Alice

hook

Alice and Rachel are the rarest of twins—so identical that even their closest friends and family can’t tell them apart. When Alice disappears without a trace, Rachel knows that something is terribly wrong because, for the first time, she feels like their connection is broken. As the hours creep by, things become more and more unclear: what is real? where is Alice? and what secrets have the twins been keeping from everyone—and from each other?

worldview

Okay, first things first:

Beautiful Lies Jessica Warman1. DO NOT go read the description of the Kindle version of Beautiful Lies—they totally give away a major plot point that is delightful to discover.

2. Beautiful Lies is a very generic/Romance-y sounding title, and neither cover is great (especially this one to the left). However, DO NOT write it off for these reasons (understandable though the urge might be) because it’s awesome!

I won’t go into too much about the plot of Beautiful Lies because one of its joys is the way the story slowly unfolds. In short, though, Rachel and Alice’s parents died in a car accident when they were young and they’ve lived with their aunt, uncle, and cousin ever since. When her twin disappears, Rachel, knows something is terribly wrong but her aunt and uncle think that Alice has simply run away again, as she’s done in the past.

The next day, though, bloody scrapes, bruises, and black eyes appear on Rachel’s body . . . even though nothing has happened to her to cause them. Even though no one would believe it, Rachel knows that she is manifesting Alice’s injuries, and she sets off, desperate to find her sister. But is this a supernatural thriller? A realistic mystery? Both?

Fred and George Weasley Harry Potter

twinsies!

As our narrator searches for her sister, it becomes clear that everything is not as it seems. While their aunt (their mother’s twin) is extremely practical and down-to-earth, Alice and Rachel’s mother was much less so, and their grandmother has struggled with lifelong mental illness. Now, I love a freaking unreliable narrator and I love an is-it-real-or-did-I-imagine-it tale, but they are hard to pull off without being either a.) totally heavy-handed (like, “hey, reader, do you see what I did there? well, I made it unclear whether that was real or not and you CAN’T SAY I DIDN’T!”), or b.) so noncommittal that the reader is left to feel that of course something is going on here because this is all so unnecessarily vague. But Jessica Warman does an overall great job writing an unreliable narrator who is both a great character and a vehicle of the mystery of the story.

what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

Beautiful Lies is a suspenseful mystery with several legit awesome twists! But it’s also a really beautiful story about the complicated relationship between two sisters, the things they do for each other, and the secrets that they’ve been keeping from one another. I think Beautiful Lies will appeal to anyone who wants a solid mystery—even if I did guess some things, this is still definitely a mystery that keeps you guessing. It has its creepy moments, so folks who dig a bit of a creep-fest will not be disappointed. But it’s certainly not scary enough to put off anyone who just wants to read a story about a girl’s relationship with her sister. In short, this is a definite stand-out. Beautiful Lies is the first book of Jessica Warman’s that I’ve read, but I’ll definitely be checking out her others.

readalikes

Dream Catcher Trilogy Wake Lisa McMann  Fade Dream Catcher trilogy Lisa McMann  Gone Dream Catcher trilogy Lisa McMann

Dream Catcher trilogy by Lisa McMann (Wake, 2008; Fade, 2009; Gone, 2010). Janie can’t help it: she gets sucked into other people’s dreams. When she falls into a different kind of terrifying nightmare, Janie isn’t just an observer—now she has a part to play.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox Mary E. Pearson

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson (2008). Jenna Fox had an accident and has just awoken from a year-long coma—or, at least, that’s what everyone has told her. But if so, why don’t her memories seem like her own? Who is Jenna, really? And where did she come from?

Shine Lauren Myracle

Shine by Lauren Myracle (2011). From Goodreads: “When her best guy friend falls victim to a vicious hate crime, sixteen-year-old Cat sets out to discover who in her small town did it. Richly atmospheric, this daring mystery mines the secrets of a tightly knit Southern community.”

procured from: I received this book in ARC form from NetGalley, with no compensation on either side. Thanks, NetGalley! Beautiful Lies is available now.

Boarding School Books Redux

by Tessa

While I’m a public school girl, I did enjoy the boarding school-like atmosphere of several successive summer camps that culminated with four weeks at a camp that actually did require uniforms and really was a boarding school during school months.

See if you can spot me:

I can say that R.’s well-laid out conclusions about the appeal of such spaces and their stories, listed in last Friday’s post, were borne out even in that short time.

I’ll leave a list of summer camp books for another time (and I promise you it will include the Babysitter’s Club).  For now, consider this list an addendum of evidence as to the power of the boarding school as setting.

Fantasies

The Tapestry Series / Henry H. Neff

Yes, this is an American Harry Potter type story–Max McDaniels discovers his (Irish) magic heritage and is sent to Rowan Academy in Virginia, where he has adventures and also finds that a great evil is awakening in the world, but also its own thing. Neff incorporates the whole world much more widely than Rowling and goes in a different direction with his evil–Max is fighting demons instead of a twisted human, and his journey is much closer to the questing of Finn McCool.  Neff actually abandons the boarding school format in Book 3 (but still read it, because there’s a scene with a creeping thing a well that is just fantastic).

And I see that a fourth book is coming out this October. Word.

The Magicians Series / Lev Grossman

The Magicians is set in a world where everyone knows about Harry Potter, the series. And then our mopey, can’t-get-his-shit-together protagonist, Quentin, finds out that there really is a school of magic, and that he has a chance to get in. But magic is much more scary and complicated than wand-waving, and graduation is even more complicated than magic. Or, it’s even more complicated when you know you have magic and you have to figure out if it even means anything in the long run.

Mysteries

Gemma Doyle Trilogy / Libba Bray

Gemma Doyle is orphaned and taken from her home in India to Spence Academy, where she uncovers a secret world and a secret about herself. And a cute boy.  It’s a tart, fun historical mystery with equal parts bitchery and girl power.

Sure, the third book is flawed and maybe you’d be better making up your own ending, but the richness of the world that Bray invents still makes it something I’d recommend reading.


Or if you want a boarding school mystery set in London with both historical and supernatural elements, but don’t want to read this, you could dive into The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson. It’s got Jack the Ripper and quite a cliffhanger. (It looks like the second book, The Madness Underneath, will be published next year.)


Books of Fell / M.E. Kerr

Or there’s always the option of a prep school mystery involving a secret society, seen through a townie outsider’s eyes. . .  It’s set by the ocean, too.

Infinite Jest / David Foster Wallace

There are really two boarding schools here – the Enfield Tennis Academy and the recovering addicts of Ennet House.  AND SO MUCH MORE. As Publisher’s Weekly described it:

“set in an absurd yet uncanny near-future, with a cast of hundreds and close to 400 footnotes, Wallace’s story weaves between two surprisingly similar locales: Ennet House, a halfway-house in the Boston Suburbs, and the adjacent Enfield Tennis Academy. It is the ‘Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment’ (each calendar year is now subsidized by retail advertising); the U.S. and Canada have been subsumed by the Organization of North American Nations, unleashing a torrent of anti-O.N.A.N.ist terrorism by Quebecois separatists; drug problems are widespread; the Northeastern continent is a giant toxic waste dump; and CD-like ‘entertainment cartridges’ are the prevalent leisure activity. The novel hinges on the dysfunctional family of E.T.A.’s founder, optical-scientist-turned-cult-filmmaker Dr. James Incandenza (aka Himself), who took his life shortly after producing a mysterious film called Infinite Jest, which is supposedly so addictively entertaining as to bring about a total neural meltdown in its viewer.”

Two bookmarks are required to read this, and yet I still wished it were longer.

Realities


Breathless / Jessica Warman

Breathless also works the outsider perspective, but as a coming of age tale, no mystery but the mysteries of human socialization and family dynamics. I’ve recommended it here before. Because it’s really good. Katie’s a girl with a talent but she comes from a family with their own problems, and she has to work out from under the feeling that she doesn’t deserve good things in life.

Prep / Curtis Sittenfeld

I pointed out in my home library post that this book was a life-changer for me. People either love Lee or want to slap her because they’re frustrated with her. I identified with her way too much for comfort, which ended up being a helpful psychological journey where I worked out some issues via the story. What made that possible was Sittenfeld’s excellent, incisive characterization and writing that drops you into prep school without calling attention to itself, but doesn’t hide its skill. In that way it’s very much like the voice in Girl.


Withering Tights / Louise Rennison

And yet, not all boarding school books are total angst fests. Tallulah Casey, the girl who narrates Withering Tights, does fret about things when she starts her first year of Performing Arts College in brooding, moor-y rural England.  But it’s the kind of fretting that sets up slapstick-y gags and hilarious misunderstandings.  Withering Tights is the start of a new series, so it’s a good go-to for breaks from Infinite Jest.

Perfect Is As Perfect Does: Review and GIVEAWAY of Origin

A Review of Origin by Jessica Khoury and a GIVEAWAY!

Razorbill (Penguin) 2012

Origin Jessica Khoury

By REBECCA, September 24, 2012

characters

Pia: genetically engineered to be immortal, Pia is working to become a scientist so she can make more like her

Eio: boy from the nearby village, he teaches Pia that some things are more powerful than scientific logic

Uncle Paolo: Pia’s main teacher and mentor, he cares only about creating a race of immortals

Sylvia: Pia’s biological mother, she too sees Pia as a means to an end

Uncle Antonio: treats Pia like a real girl rather than just a science experiment.

Aunt Harriet: a new arrival to the jungle, she brings with her a boarding school girl’s knowledge of escape routes and lies

hook

Pia is genetically engineered to be immortal. The first successful one of her kind, she has grown up in Little Cambridge (Little Cam for short), a research facility in the middle of a jungle, where she is being groomed to join the team of scientists whose job it is to create a race of Pias. On her 17th birthday, a storm gives Pia the chance to enter the jungle beyond the walls of Little Cam for the first time. There, she meets Eio and begins a relationship with him and the other Ai’oans (the native tribe near whom Little Cam was settled). Little by little, Pia begins to doubt the total scientific detachment she has always been taught to value, and as she does, Little Cam begins to disgorge secrets that make Pia doubt that its single-minded devotion to science is as pure as she once believed. In the end, it may come down to a choice between being perfect and being human.

worldview

In Forever Young Adult’s review of Origin, Jenny suggests that this is a novel that will appeal more to some younger readers (teens, that is), and I absolutely agree, because Pia’s mindset is very sheltered. Pia knows nothing of the world outside Little Cam, not even which jungle she’s in (the Amazon). She isn’t taught history, politics, or the humanities. She can draw, but learned to do so to render specimens. She didn’t grow up with any other kids. She knows that nothing can hurt her and that she’ll never die. As such, she’s incredibly naive and non-analytical. Despite the author telling us that she is genius-level smart, we never see her intelligence in any way except her memory of chemical compounds and the Latin names for plants.

For all of these reasons, Pia is, for me, a totally unappealing character. I think she’s sympathetic, sure, and I imagine that many people will be able to identify with her frustrations about not having access to the secret of her own immortality, and her immediate attraction to Eio. But, while I’m sympathetic to the fact that Pia has been treated like a science experiment, it doesn’t make reading about her any more interesting. And, while I enjoyed learning about the secret backstory of Little Cam (because, of course, as well all know, every scientific facility that a main character thinks is squeaky clean is hiding a horrible, gruesome past), it was just one variation on a theme I’ve read many times before.

Just after finishing Origin, I was telling my sister about it, trying to explain why it had bored me. Because, don’t get me wrong: Origin is well-written, totally competently-plotted, and has a fair amount of world building. But it felt completely brittle to me—a novel engineered to be enjoyable by combining the right ingredients, just as Pia is engineered to be perfect. A strong effort in all the particulars that shattered at the slightest nudge. In particular, I was explaining to my sister that it’s the characters that really made it fall flat for me. Pia is brilliant and immortal. Brilliance and immortality are concepts that totally interest me. Yet, Pia’s immortality had no impact. Partly because she’s 17 and most 17-year-old characters don’t have to worry about mortal threats anyway; partly because she has never experienced what death is (except in lab animals) so it’s a merely quantitative characteristic for her; partly because until pretty late in the book she views immortality as a totally desirable trait; partly because everyone in Little Cam is brilliant, so it’s a meaningless distinction? Probably all of the above.

Ender's Game Orson Scott CardAnd unlike the genius of a character like Ender from Ender’s Game (who my sister cited as another character whose genius is often described as cold and detached), who is valued because of his ability to innovate, Pia is valued for her ability to execute. She’s been fast-tracked to single-mindedly dedicate her life to the scientific pursuits for which her mentors have trained her. In this way, Jessica Khoury sets up what will be a book-long battle for Pia, between, on one hand, perfection, detachment, and the noble work of creating her race, and, on the other hand, imperfection (humanness), love, and happiness. In short, that is (as Khoury sets it up), the battle between science and nature, the battle between scientist and “savage”, the battle between knowledge and intuition, and the battle between control and impulse.

Friends, say it with me now: binaries aren’t real. Therefore, they make boring tensions in books. So, while I think that this might be a great read for someone who hasn’t had much exposure to the idea that science and nature are connected rather than opposite, or that there are different kinds of knowledge, some of which come from study and some of which come from intuition or peer-wisdom, to those of us who’ve thought such thoughts before, Origin is pretty flat.

what was this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

I feel confused about the book’s intentions because, as I mentioned, it struck me as kind of a paint-by-numbers book that took things the author or publisher knew would be appealing and applied them formulaically. If the intention here is purely to entertain, then I think many people will be entertained. The plot moves quickly and there is suspense. Oh, and there’s a jaguar that is Pia’s pet, so that’s fun to think about. There’s a romance . . . kind of. I think this is what the kids are calling “insta-love.” I was totally weirded out by Eio. For one thing, Pia has no exposure to the notion of beauty in humans, except that people tell her she’s perfect looking (in the context of being perfect in every other way, too, though). Yet, she still refers to Eio’s “abs”! I found this outrageous. Even if she had a biological reaction to the play of muscular strength under skin, I refuse to believe that she—scientist that she is—would shorten a scientific name for a muscle group and use it to describe something attractive. There, I said it. That’s been bugging me for days.

Scott Westerfeld Uglies SeriesBack to business: Eio is a nice guy. He certainly loves Pia (we don’t know why—being able to love immediately seems to be part of his “jungle-ness”), cares for children, is polite to his elders, and does brave and idiotic things, like risking his life to “save” a girl who cannot die. But . . . there’s just no other way to say it: Khoury has made Eio the stereotype of the noble savage, and made him “more attractive” than the other Ai’oans (with their “flat noses” and “slant[ed]” eyes) by giving him mixed parentage (113). Meh, I dunno, y’all. I just thought Origin had it wrong on all counts. It was squirmingly exoticizing when describing the Ai’oans and their charming native myths, and it was annoyingly anti-intellectual in the picture it painted of science. Don’t get me wrong: I’m as taken by a story of science pushed too far as the next person. It’s just that there are so many books that have done it well (Frankenstein, the Uglies Series) and Origin sets up false binaries and then depends on us buying into them to wring suspense from their demolition. And did I mention that the ending is mega-predictable?

So, this is Khoury’s first novel and it got the Penguin treatment (meaning, who knows if she was asked to commercialize certain elements, etc), so I’m curious to see what she does next. Overall, I think Origin is a very competent novel that will likely appeal to a wide audience. I just don’t happen to part of that audience. But, that doesn’t mean you won’t be! So:

GIVEAWAY!

Because I like you so much, I want to give one lucky reader my copy of Origin! There are four easy ways you can enter to win. Just remember to tell me how you entered in the comments or your entry can’t count! You can:

1. Follow us on Twitter (@we_eat_YA)

2. Follow Crunchings & Munchings via email (go to the right sidebar of the blog and enter your email where it says “follow blog via email”)

3. Follow us on Facebook

4. Link up to crunchingsandmunchings.wordpress.com somewhere on your blog

I’ll announce the winner here in one week!

procured from: I received an ARC from the publisher with no compensation on either side. Origin is available now.

What’s So Great About Boarding School Books? Everything!

A List of Boarding School (and Boarding School-esque) Young Adult Novels

Harry Potter  J.K. Rowling Harry Potter 2 J.K. Rowling Harry Potter 3 J.K. Rowling Harry Potter 4 J.K. Rowling Harry Potter 5 J.K. Rowling Harry Potter 6 J.K. Rowling

By REBECCA, September 21, 2012

On Monday, our guest reviewer S. Dubbs reviewed Vampire Academy, reminding me of the complete and utter delight of boarding school books and reminding me that I’d been intending to a post about them. Here ’tis.

But why exactly is boarding school such a potent setting for young adult novels? Let’s find out!

1. A recipe for success!

A. Take several hundred people at the most developmentally volatile moment in their lives.

B. Put them in very close quarters for school, eating, sleeping, grooming, dating, leisure, mischief-making, escapism, experimentation (sometimes even in the same room as each other).

C. Make these quarters totally isolated from the rest of the world, allowing their inhabitants to feel as if it is the whole, entire world.

D. Throw in a heaping cup of lust, a dash of self-loathing, a sprinkle of jealousy, and a level cup of anxiety and stir until combined, being sure to stand back in case the entire thing EXPLODES, splattering hormones all over your recently cleaned kitchen!

2. No Parents = New Personalities!

Kazuo Ishiguro Never Let Me GoWithout their families around, boarding school characters’ personalities are up for grabs. Instead of being tied to who they always were growing up, they can create new personae that are totally different from who they were at home. For some characters, this means they get the opportunity to be who they really are and express themselves without the threat or censure of familial expectation. For others it means they can decide who they want to be—and, while this sometimes seems childish or affected, I think it’s often a mechanism for teens who are still exploring who they are to try on different potential versions of themselves. (Sarah Dessen’s non-boarding school novel, What Happened to Goodbyeis an extreme example of how this can happen.)

The Liar Stephen FryIn The Liar, Stephen Fry’s hilarious and gorgeously written homoerotic homage to boarding school classics like Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays (awesome in it’s own right, really!), Adrian Healey learns, among other things, the incredible importance of toast.

Or, they could be like the students in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, who don’t have any parents and develop their entire personalities surrounded only by their peers.

3. Intense Friendships!

Jo Walton Among OthersWhen people are trying to figure out who they are, they look to their peers in order to copy what they like and distance themselves from what they don’t. In boarding school novels, characters have no one except their peers, and they get a lot of exposure to them. This swirling mess of identification, disidentification, the desire to express themselves, and the desire to be understood lead to some of the most intense friendships ever! Sometimes this is about wanting to be like someone, like in Kathe Koja’s Headlong, where the arrival of new student Hazel changes everything for boarder Lily. Or, it can be the literal I-would-die-for-you of Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

Sidebar: I will go ahead and assert that, legion though boarding schools in fiction are, Hogwarts is far and away the awesomest boarding school ever.

The flip side of these intense friendships, of course, is staggering isolation. In Jo Walton’s wonderful Among Others a young girl’s truest friends are the characters in the science fiction and fantasy novels she so loves.

3. A Motley Crew!

Looking for Alaska John GreenSpeaking of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, one of the best things about boarding school is the total randos who end up there. There are the people who are there because it’s prestigious, or because their parents don’t like them or want them around, or because their parents love them but are too busy to raise them, or because they were dumped there as charity, or because they convinced their parents to send them there. The list goes on, but no matter how you slice it, it’s an interesting subset of random folks, usually without the great roommate-matching skills of the Sorting Hat.

A Little Princess Frances Hodgson BurnettSometimes you might find love, like in John Green’s Looking For Alaska. Sometimes you might find yourself drastically downgraded from near-princess status to an attic room and a mop and bucket, like my favorite childhood boarder, Shirley Temple Sarah Crewe, in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess. P.S., has everyone seen Alfonso Cuarón’s A Little Princess, starring Liesel Matthews (who, apparently, is heir to the Hyatt fortune and did theatre after college)? Because it’s awesomely gorgeous, similar to his Great Expectations, aesthetically.

4. Politics and Secret Societies!

The Mockingbirds Daisy WhitneySince boarding schools feel like their own worlds, they are often hotbeds of social and political unrest. Or social and political complacency that one brave character smashes wide open. Such is the case in one of Tessa’s faves, E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and in Daisy The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks E. LockhartWhitney’s The Mockingbirds. In Disreputable History, Frankie is excluded from her boyfriend’s boys-only secret society and so she becomes a pranking criminal mastermind in order to topple patriarchy! Speaking of secret societies, in The Mockingbirds, Alex is date raped and, rather than stay silent and preserve the reputation of the school, she turns to The Mockingbirds, a secret society dedicated to “righting the wrongs of their fellow peers.” Also, did I mention, SECRET SOCIETIES!?

5. Mysteries and Long-Buried Secrets!

The Divine Economy of Salvation Priscila UppalMkay, this is my favorite thing about boarding school novels. What is it about an isolated setting crawling with teenagers (and, let’s not forget, teachers in various stages of despair and despotism) that makes for murder, accidental death, and their coverups? Seriously, if I ever had a kid I would never let it go to boarding school for fear that it’d be murdered, “disappear”, or be subjected to some creepy initiation rite, like in Priscila Uppal’s The Divine Economy of Salvation. In Sheila Kohler’s Cracks (a “crack” is a crush—it’s set in South Africa), the members of a boarding school swim team are infatuated with their swim instructor, and vie for her favoritism when they’re not tormenting other students. When a new student comes along and becomes her new favorite, shit gets out of control.

One of my favorite books of all time, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, is not strictly a boarding school novel because it’s set in a college (Hampden, based on Bennington college where the author went). But because Hampden is a very small school in the middle of nowhere Vermont, it feels a lot like boarding school. (I write about The Secret History HERE, too, in a review of The Secret Diaries, which are really a not-very-different adaptation ofTartt’s novel.)

Picnic at Hanging Rock Peter WeirIn Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (made into a killer movie by Peter Weir!), a group of girls go for a picnic at Hanging Rock (it’s set in Australia) on Valentine’s Day, 1900. Three of the girls and one teacher mysteriously disappear while climbing the rock. One girl is later found, but has no memory of what happened, and another girl returns in hysterics but cannot explain why. And, in googling Picnic at Hanging Rock just now, I have learned the following, which delights me to no end: apparently independent theater company Breaking Bread Theatre is planning a musical of Picnic at Hanging Rock. Most importantly, in Weir’s film the costumes are amazing! They all wear these great white things (above)!

6. Potential to be Diabolical Training Grounds!

Skin Hunger A Resurrection of Magic 1 Kathleen DueyWhile long-buried secrets abound in realist boarding school novels, we can’t forgot that sci-fi and fantasy have their own style of boarding schools. In Kathleen Duey’s Skin Hunger, the first book of one of my favorite YA series, Hahp is one of nine boys sent to a school for wizards that’s about as different from Hogwarts as a decapitation is from a paper cut. And there is no guarantee that any of them will ever graduate. And, in case it wasn’t clear, by “graduate” I mean “live.” You can check out my full review of Skin Hunger HERE.

Ender's Game Orson Scott CardAnd, of course, what would a list of boarding schools be without . . . yes, you guessed it: BATTLE SCHOOL! In Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, children are monitored from an early age to see if they are eligible to attend the highly prestigious Battle School (you know, in space) and train to fight the next Bugger War. Ender Wiggin is one such launchie, and his time in Battle School combines all the most stressful and harsh things about realist novels’ boarding schools only, in addition, he is TRAINING FOR BATTLE. Come on, that is so much harsher than homework, no?

 
So, there you have it: the glory of boarding school novels, from Hogwarts to the Hegemon. What about you—what are your favorite boarding school novels? Tell me in the comments!

Cat Break!

I was away this weekend, comicking it up at SPX 2012.

I guess Turkey missed me because whenever I tried to write anything on the laptop, this happened:

cat interference

So while I take a break to hang out with my cat, you can investigate some of the talented people and the art they make that I got at the Expo.

I didn’t have enough cash to buy everything that I wanted to, so this is just a small selection. But there’s a whole list on the SPX site to check out.

Hellen Jo / Jin & Jam No. 1 : A tale of small delinquencies and new friendship in Northern California.

Steve Wolfhard / Turtie Needs Work : A small turtle tries out different jobs to heartbreakingly cute/funny degrees. (Reminded me of the humor in the Marcel the Shell videos) (published by Koyama press, who had so many delicious things to buy, including these mysterious and beautiful Canadians and this wonderfully inventive with a twist of grotesque Canadian.)

Ines Estrada / Ojitos Borrosos : indie comics en español!

Katie Omberg / Gay Kid : a rougher, more sketchy style of minicomic about growing up gay.

I met Nate Powell! He was so nice. And I bought Year of the Beasts, his collaboration with the author Cecil Castellucci, so I hope I can review it here soon.

Miao,

Tessa

Buffy Meets Katniss . . . In Boarding School: Vampire Academy

A review of Vampire Academy (Vampire Academy #1) by Richelle Mead

Razorbill (Penguin), 2007

Vampire Academy Richelle Mead

A special guest review by S. Dubs, September 17, 2012

Crunchers & Munchers, it is my delight to bring you a guest review by the lovely and mysterious S. Dubs! S. is something of a cross between Scarlet O’Hara and Mata Hari (yeah—they’re almost the same name and don’t try and tell me that’s a coincidence). She has recently relocated to the Big Easy, where she divides her time between dirty jazz clubs and questionable sports bars. That’s when she isn’t reading young adult literature and watching Supernatural. Sam. Because obviously that was your next question. Welcome, S. Dubs! —Rebecca
 

characters

Rosemarie Hathaway: Our plucky heroine, Rose is a dhampir—half-human, half-vampire— in training to be a royal bodyguard for her Moroi (i.e., good vampire) best friend, Lissa.

Vasalisa Dragomir: Rose’s best friend and the last living member of the royal Dragomir line.  Beautiful, kind, but slightly unstable. The object of Rose’s unwavering loyalty, the two have a special bond in that Rose can “read” Lissa’s thoughts and feelings (though Lissa can’t read Rose).

Christian Ozera: A snarky outcast who is shunned by his peers for the sins of his parents. The fact that that he is delightfully sarcastic and tends to tell hard truths doesn’t help his social standing. He and Lissa form an unlikely connection.

Dimitri Belikov: A super hot, super badass Guardian—a dhampir bodyguard for the Moroi.  He is tasked with tutoring Rose in battling Strigoi (i.e., evil vampires). As will happen during mock combat, sparks between the two fly.

Mia: Obligatory Mean Girl, and obstacle to Rose and Lissa’s re-entry into Vamp Academy popular society. In their absence (see below), she has become the Queen B. and isn’t ready to give it up.

hook

Rose and Lissa have been on the run for two years, trying to escape a mysterious but very real threat to Lissa’s life.  They are found and returned to St. Vladimir’s Academy, a boarding school for Moroi—a race of vampires who are born (not made, as the Strigoi are) and eventually die—and dhampirs, who train to become Guardians, defenders of the Moroi against their enemies, the Strigoi. Rose and Lissa now have to face the consequences of their unsanctioned flight, reintegrate into the socio-political vipers’ nest that is high school, and uncover the threat to Lissa’s life is and how to stop it. NBD.

worldview

Vlad the ImpalerRichelle Mead turns to the vampire legends of Eastern Europe (Romania, specifically) and Russia to help create her world of warring vampire races: the Moroi, “living” vampires who wield magic and drink blood, but don’t kill their ‘donors,’ and the Strigoi, who give up their magic and morals for true immortality by killing their victims when they take their blood. Moroi blood is the Strigoi’s favorite snack so, to protect themselves, the Moroi hire dhampir bodyguards. As half-human, half-Moroi, dhampirs have a mix of human and vampire qualities: they are super strong, have fast reflexes, can go out in the sun, don’t drink blood, and, oh yeah, can’t reproduce with other members of their species.

Max Schreck as NosferatuFor me, this biological sidebar is one of the more interesting aspects of Mead’s particular take on the vampire legend. Dhampirs can’t make babies with other dhampirs and so, in order to perpetuate their race, they must reproduce with Moroi (the offspring of a Moroi/dhampir coupling is always a dhampir child). But the Moroi tend to want to marry and make Moroi babies with other Moroi, so there are a lot of single dhampir mothers around. In fact, there seem to be two occupations available to dhampir women: Guardian or baby mama. Guess which one Rose chooses? (She herself is the daughter of a famous Guardian mother and unknown and absent Moroi father, and has plenty of mommy issues and daddy issues to deal with throughout the series.)

Basically, the Moroi and dhampir live in a mutually beneficial arrangement, though dhampirs are socially subordinate to the Moroi, who have a ruling aristocracy of twelve royal families.  However, the main worldview of Vampire Academy is boarding school and all the delightfulness that this entails (mainly teens running around with minimal and/or ineffective adult supervision for large swaths of time which allows them to participate in various madcap adventures).

what were this book’s intentions? does it live up to them?

Living under a rock!Unless you have been living under a rock for the past ten years, you know that the market is glutted with vampires.  So what makes Vampire Academy so special?  Honestly? Not much—though I do like the Old World Russian flavor of Mead’s particular take on vampire society (itself not super original, but well-executed here). If I had to pick one intention, I would say that Mead is after entertainment, and on that front she delivers.  There are some interesting moral and political quandaries raised throughout the series, which give the books a bit of added depth, but overall they are just fun to read.

Buffy the Vampire SlayerMead’s characters are gratifyingly complex, her Rose Hathaway the anti-Bella Swan. Indeed, Rose is Buffy-meets-Katniss and neither of them at the same time. She is quippy, hot-headed, impulsive, moral (but comfortable with grey areas), loyal, strong, simultaneously practical and a romantic.  And she (along with the rest of the main characters) grows over the course of the series, rather than becoming a stronger version of a one-dimensional self (*cough* *cough* Bella).

Mead’s dialogue is fun and funny, and the overarching plot arc has lots of delicious teen angst to propel you through the series.  And, despite the overt dualism of “good” vs. “bad” vampires, Mead offers a realistically complex view of the world in which the good and the bad mix on an individual and social level and people are always more complicated than they first appear.

Frostbite Vampire Academy 2One of the things I most appreciated about the novel is the way that Mead deals with sexuality: sex is both something that just happens and a big deal. Rose is an alluring individual and she knows it. What’s more, she takes pleasure in being found attractive, without being (too) obnoxious about it. She has a basically healthy self-image; she can be self-deprecating, but she generally likes herself and understands her value, which is plural. (Side note: I kind of hate the cover art for the whole series, but the model on the first novel’s cover looks uncannily like a young Angelina Jolie, which is actually a fairly good correlative for Rose’s appeal.)  As urban** fantasy/paranormal romance, the novel could easily dwell on the racy and/or romantic and there’s definitely an entertaining amount of that going on. But, like the best young adult works out there, the primary relationship is friendship:

“Lissa and I had been best friends ever since kindergarten, when our teacher had paired us together for writing lessons. Forcing five-year-olds to spell Vasilisa Dragomir and Rosemarie Hathaway was beyond cruel, and we’d—or rather, I’d—responded appropriately. I’d chucked my book at our teacher and called her a fascist bastard. I hadn’t known what those words meant, but I’d known how to hit a moving target.

Lissa and I had been inseparable ever since.” (8)

The bond between Lissa and Rose is the stuff of fantasy—and not just because it involves a mystical psychic connection.  Theirs is a do-anything-for-each-other relationship, one that pushes both of them outside of their comfort zones and contributes to the aforementioned personal growth/character development.

[**The series actually ends up spanning quite a geographical range, but the primary action takes place at St. Vlad’s Academy, which is in The Middle of Nowhere, Montana.  So anti-urban fantasy?]

personal disclosure

Succubus Blues Richelle MeadI discovered this book through reading Richelle Mead’s adult urban fantasy series about the adventures of Georgina Kincaid, Succubus. Both series were guilty pleasures/secret shames, until I remembered that I was pretty shameless in my tastes and started telling all my friends about them. There are some real similarities between Rose and Georgina and if you like one (and are of an age to enjoy both adult and young adult fiction), there is a good chance you will enjoy reading about the other.  But I am new to this whole book review thing, so hit me up in the comments if you have read either series and want to fangirl and/or disagree with me (or suggest a good read-alike!).

Winter (Voice) Is Coming: Demon Eyes

A review of Demon Eyes (Witch Eyes #2) by Scott Tracey

Flux, 2012

Scott Tracey Demon Eyes Witch Eyes #2

 

 

 

 

 

Note:Demon Eyes is the sequel to Witch Eyes, so make sure you read it first (our full review is HERE).

 

 

 

 

 

By REBECCA, September 14, 2012

characters

Braden: with great power comes great . . . migraines, and adventurous hijinks with a couple of difficult hotties

Trey: handsome and infuriating son of Braden’s enemy, he and Braden run hot and cold

Drew: shape-shifting potty-mouth, he’s always around when Braden needs to fight evil

Lucien: manipulative demon that Braden killed at the end of Witch Eyes

Riley: single-mindedly determined to solve the mystery surrounding Lucien’s death

Matthias: mysterious new demon with an unclear agenda

hook

Witch Eyes Scott TraceyAfter he killed the demon Lucien at the end of Witch Eyes, everything kind of went to shit for Braden. He has moved into Thorpe estate to live with his father, Jason, but Jason is nearly never there and doesn’t seem to care about Braden much when he is there. Trey and Jade Lansing have decided they shouldn’t be seen together after all (that whole feuding families thing—you know how it goes), and Riley thinks it’s too dangerous to stay friends. So, what’s a guy to do when he loses his only two friends and the guy he’s falling for, especially when he’s having nightmares that maybe, just maybe Lucien isn’t quite as dead as he thought? Well, for starters, he can develop a deadly defense mechanism in reaction to the pain.

worldview

Whereas in Witch Eyes, Braden was trying his hardest to stay out of the feud, now he is undeniably right in the middle of things. Braden’s been having nightmares and visions about Lucien and girls are starting to go missing. On top of that, Trey’s pushing him away with one hand, and holding him close with the other; Jade ignores him at school but says they can still be friends out of it; and Uncle John, whom he came to Belle Dam to protect, is totally incommunicado. Poor Braden!—dude, your life totally blows right now. It’s no wonder, then, that Braden throws himself headlong into trying to solve a whole new set of mysteries.

Buffy the Vampire SlayerDemon Eyes is a super fast-paced supernatural mystery, and Scott Tracey doesn’t skimp on any of the plot—and that’s what I find so enjoyable about Demon Eyes: unlike the other myriad young adult books with supernatural overtones, Tracey’s novel is really all about action. In this way, what it reminds me of most is a television show. And, indeed, I feel like the CW would be doing themselves a huge favor if they’d go for something like the Witch Eyes series (as long as they wouldn’t turn Braden straight). Each book has more than enough plot for a great season-length arc, against which we could enjoy Braden and Trey’s immense sexual tension. I could totally imagine the hilarious hijinks that fashionista Jade could get up to at school, the sub-plots involving whatever the heck it is that Drew gets up to in his spare time, the creepy shenanigans of Catherine Lansing and Jason Thorpe, and, of course, all the ways in which Braden is awkward and snarky. It could be like Supernatural meets Veronica Mars meets Buffy meets Gilmore Girls. Come on, CW!

what were this book’s expectations? did it live up to them?

Sam-Dean-and-the-Impala SupernaturalThis is a good sequel. I sometimes find myself annoyed at the middle books in trilogies because it can feel like a rebound book that does nothing but react to the first book and segue into the third. I think Tracey made a smart move by creating a mystery that isn’t hinted at in the first book (yeah, I know, I’m being vague, but the book isn’t out yet and I don’t want to give too much away). Much like the new season of a tv show, when the book begins some things have changed and character relationships have shifted, providing new drama. And if I keep talking about the book in televisual terms it’s because in its pacing it really reminded me of tv—especially the dialogue which is brief, funny, and snarky.

Demon Eyes Scott TraceyAdditionally, we get to know Drew better (who popped up briefly in Witch Eyes, but whose motives were questionable)and he’s quite the amusing flirty bodyguard, providing a nice middle-book-of-the-series relief in the drama between Braden and Trey, whose relationship is as unstable as ever. Drew and Braden’s relationship is fun (especially since it pisses Trey off royally) and Drew is a great foil to Trey’s seriousness. It’s also nice to see a jokey, supportive, and fun male friendship in a book with a gay main character.

Veronica MarsAs I mentioned in my review of Witch Eyes (here), I really like Braden. I want to be stuck in study hall with him where we’d become friends through a series of cutting remarks aimed not at each other but at our mutual situation. He’s funny, smart, and a total head-case for excellent reasons. I particularly like that his impulsiveness often makes it so that he doesn’t quite think through the consequences of his actions, which feels realistic. He is conflicted about his loyalties, his relationships, and his responsibilities, but he never falls into the trap of so many infuriating characters—that is, acting for no apparent reason. Braden is conflicted, sure, but Tracey always makes damn sure Braden’s reasoning is clear in the moment, which makes me very sympathetic to him when things don’t go his way. He’s brave, but not invincible by any means (his powers exact a grave price from him), so his bravery is believable, and his vulnerability well-earned. Plus, did I mention he’s funny?

In short, I enjoyed the heck out of Demon Eyes. My one complaint is that I didn’t feel like I got very much character development in book two—while Braden certainly went through changes, I don’t feel like I know him better now than I did after the first book, and I could have used some more daily interactions that developed the main characters along with the great story. But there’s a third book, so I remain hopeful on that score.

Oh, and if you read Witch Eyes and want something to tide you over before Demon Eyes is released (October 8th), you can check out Homecoming (Witch Eyes 0.5), a short story prequel to Witch Eyes that’s set before Braden comes to Belle Dam. From Goodreads: “When it comes to making friends, witch-in-training Braden is no rock star. But he gets more than he bargained for when one little charisma spell goes disastrously wrong at the social event of the season.”

readalikes

White Cat Curse Workers Holly Black Red Glove Curse Workers Holly Black Black Heart Curse Workers Holly Black

Curse Workers series by Holly Black (2010-2012). Cassel is from a family of curse-workers—people who have the (illegal) power to change emotion, memory, and luck by touch. But Cassel doesn’t have this power, so he tries to stay out of the kind of trouble in which his family members usually find themselves. When Cassel sleepwalks his way into a mysterious con, though, he can’t keep out of things any longer.

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer Lish McBride Necromancing the Stone Lish McBride

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer (Necromancer #1) by Lish McBride. While working a fast-food job, low-key Sam finds out that he’s—you guessed it—a necromancer. And there’s another creepy necromancer who wants something from him. Book two in the series, Necromancing the Stone, is out next week.

Procured from: receivedARC from NetGalley (thanks!) with no compensation on either side.

Demon Eyes will be released on October 8th

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl: I put the “idiot” in “videotape”

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Jesse Andrews
Amulet, 2012

review by Tessa

Characters:
Greg Gaines (me)(“me”): self-loathing protag, haver of anxious mental belches, appreciator of slug-like cats
Earl Jackson (Earl): short and often mad (because of being short? and the whole broken home thing?) but also smart and funny and a cowriter/director of homemade films with Greg Gaines
Rachel Kushner (Dying Girl): nice sick girl
Madison Hartnett: nice hot girl

My personal hook / disclosure / digression:
This book is set in Pittsburgh and written by a Pittsburgher and moreover it has been universally (among the librarians I know and, I’m sure, other people) acclaimed as very funny and so great and I should read it have I read it yet? It’s so funny! And, and… Pittsburgh! (The guy from Tram’s is even in here.)

(But you don’t have to know Pittsburgh to like this book.)

And as luck and event planning would have it, Jesse Andrews spoke at a work event where I got to hear his (funny, self-deprecating) speech and got a free copy of this book, which had by then been built up so much I decided to save it for the right time.

When I woke up last night with anxiety-induced night sweats, I knew that it must be the right time for a funny cancer book. Set in Pittsburgh.

Were you right?
Yes. This book was like eating magical candy that somehow never makes you feel sick to your stomach. It made me immediately less anxious through pure reading delight.

Aside: Perhaps inevitably it’s been getting compared to the other big YA cancer book this year by John Green, which if you haven’t heard of it I’ve helpfully reviewed it on this very blog. That book is called The Fault in Our Stars and is a romantic love story, and is by an author with a big following, writing his first book with a female protagonist, with people waiting to see if he could do it. This one is called Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, it’s about friendship love and self-love (and jokes about self-love, you know, that other kind) by a first time author.

One could set this up as a competition, but let’s not. They’re both great books and they actually work well together.  There’s room enough for at least two good realistic books that happen to feature cancer-stricken characters in their teens.

PITTSBURGH!

But will I cry?
You probably won’t sob (unless you’re a mom). You probably will laugh a lot, and cringe, and feel twinges in your heartstrings at certain points.  Your tear glands may moisten.  Or not, you emotionless freak.

But what’s the story already Tessa and why should I read it?

Greg Gaines is a senior who thinks he’s mastered the art of being invisible by trying to please everyone a little bit but not so much that they become friends. He’s painfully self-aware of himself as a person who should not be seen, but is not so self-aware that he can accept himself and be comfortable.  He has one real friend, Earl Jackson, and despite coming from separate racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, they were brought together by the greatest force of ecstatic truth on earth, Werner Herzog.

Since realizing that they are the only two eleven-year-olds who get Aguirre, the Wrath of God, they have gone on to watch many more arthouse films.  Their interest in film also extends to making movies influenced by their favorite directors — films that no one else is allowed to see because they’re not good enough yet. But the descriptions give the reader enough of a glimpse into the madcap, sock-puppet workings that it is possible to imagine how seriously silly and wonderfully non sequitur filled they must be.

Greg once had an awkward friendship with a girl named Rachel in Hebrew School during sixth grade, a friendship based on him trying to make another girl jealous. The end of the friendship, consisting as it did of a series of increasingly unaccepted invitations to come over and hang out with her, was never really resolved, but now Rachel has leukemia and Greg’s mother and Rachel’s mother think that having Greg be friends with Rachel again would be the best possible thing to cheer Rachel up, as parents are immune to knowing when their ideas are terrible and wrong and embarrassing.

PITTSBURGH

Because Greg is writing this story, it never swerves into Maudlintown. In fact, it circles Maudlintown on the map and tells you all the ways it will never ever go there.  Andrews makes good use of bullet points, stage direction, script dialogue, and many many raunchy, profanity-filled asides to ensure that the reader is bouncing around the brain of a distractible teenage boy with imagination to spare and nowhere yet to put it in the world.

I wish I could quote you so much from the book, but everything I want to quote leads to something else that is insanely quotable, so you should just read the book yourself. (But the subtitle of this post is one of my favorite chapter titles in the book, so you know). Andrews makes his chapters vignette-like but strung together with the momentum of the buried thought of death, so that you can be three quarters of the way finished before you look up from the page.

If I had a criticism it would be that we don’t get to see Rachel as a person that much, but I also think that it’s because Greg himself can’t fully see Rachel.  She’s too good of a listener and he’s too eager to perform for her, and too scared to get into a real conversation (and maybe she is, too? There’s no way to tell.) That’s all true to his narration and to the story arc. It even adds to the exploration of friendship that the book ends up being (and I really love that this is a book about friendship, if I haven’t explicitly said that yet).

Of course Greg and Earl’s films get entangled with the downhill slide of Rachel’s disease, and as much as Greg hates it, as much as it is humiliating and painful and requires him to stop lying on his floor pretending to be dead, he has to learn and grow a little bit and actually voice his feelings out loud.  And the way it happens for him is very much like life is: too fast and too full of hindsight.

I look forward to reading more from him, and there’s this tease of a vlog theme song on his tumblr:

Readalikes

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
This is a college coming of age story published for the adult market and is definitely more mature in its subject matter (but maybe not its themes?).  But there are some echoes of it in the undercurrents of Andrews’ book, I swear.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson John Green David Levithan

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
For the humor and the trying to be invisible and failing.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
Ha ha! Just kidding. But it does have filmmaking AND leukemia.

Books Kiss: On Unexpected Relationships Among Books

By REBECCA, September 10, 2012

Crunchings and Munchings bookshelf

The other day, I was talking to my dear friend J— on the phone, lamenting that I wasn’t in her new apartment with her so that I could help organize her bookshelves (one of my favorite pastimes, nerd alert). During the course of our conversation, I convinced her that the best course of action was to color-code her books. This is something I’ve always thought looks so beautiful—kind of an outward expression of books’ art—but never quite wanted to do myself, since I have my books organized by genre. Over the next day, J—sent me pictures of her shelves in progress and they were so beautiful that I simply had to do one of my shelves. I chose the shelf where I keep all the hifalutin literature that I, say, read in grad school (you can tour Tessa’s and my bookshelves here and here). It looks beautiful (if Martha do say so herself) and it was extremely satisfying.

Nightwood and Phantom of the OperaMore importantly, though, this aesthetic reorganization results in books’ proximity to one another that isn’t governed by author, publication date, or theoretical lens. That is, it forced me to think about books relating to books that I never thought about before. It places, for example, Richard Wright’s Native Son next to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood next to Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera. As someone who spent seven years of grad school being fascinated with connections among books (and likely driving people crazy by pointing out insignificant resonances) I had never noticed how relevant Hester Prynne’s enforced mark of adultery might be to a reading of Bigger Thomas’ race; nor had I noticed how much the baroque gothic language and obsessive theatricality of Barnes’ Nightwood might owe to the gothic underbelly of obsessive love set in the Parisian opera in Leroux’s Phantom.

So, this got got me thinking: what new relationships might my YA novels develop if they were allowed to cavort by color? What nuances of those books might be revealed by putting them in conversation with unlikely fellows? Here are just a few that jumped out at me:

RED

Sport Louise Fitzhugh Peter Cameron Someday this Pain Will Be Useful to You

Sport, by Louise Fitzhugh & Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You, by Peter Cameron

red

Sport is one of the sequels to one of my favorite YA reads of all time, Harriet the Spy. As you’ll remember, Sport is one of Harriet’s best friends; he lives with his absent-minded writer father, and loves baseball. In Sport, 11-year-old Sport gets a stepmother and inherits millions of dollars when Sport’s grandfather dies. In a bid for his share of the money, Sport’s mother shows up and kidnaps him, forcing him to stay at the Plaza Hotel.

In Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You, it’s the summer after high school and James Sveck is working at his mom’s art gallery, trying to explain to his parents that he doesn’t want to go to college because he hates people his own age and believes he can learn just as much by reading on his own. James is hyper-analytical and doesn’t buy into any of the life-scripts that so saturate everyday encounters.

Leaving aside the simple geographical fact that when Sport is hanging out in the Plaza, he’s a mere two miles down 5th Avenue from the Washington Square dog park where James walks his dog (and even closer to the gaudy Trump building where James’ father lives), I kind of cannot stop giggling in amused poignancy over what I imagine the encounter between Sport and James would be. Sport, who is old-school NYC—managing his father’s paltry finances in a ledger book, knowing their tabs at each neighborhood shop down to the dime—might, I think, be another person that James could tolerate.

I can see Sport skateboarding down 5th Avenue when he gets away from the Plaza and leaning against the wall of the art gallery where James works. James leaves the gallery to go get John’s daily salad combination and Sport asks him what he’s doing. James would say, “I’m going to procure a daily mix of four gourmet salads for a co-worker.”

“Why?” Sport would ask.

“Because salad is important to some people,” James would reply.

“Oh,” says Sport. “Is it important to you?”

“No,” says James. “We have garbage cans in my mom’s gallery that sell for thousands of dollars, too.”

“Oh,” says Sport. “I guess garbage cans are important to some people, too.”

“Yeah,” James says, “I think probably you’re right.”

GREEN

Primavera Francesca Lia Block Same Difference Siobhan Vivian

Primavera, by Francesca Lia Block & Same Difference, by Siobhan Vivian

green

Primavera’s voice brought life to the desert from the moment she was born. In love with her uncle’s partner who will never love her back, she follows a dangerous stranger to Elysia, a city that values youth and beauty and art above all else—and that wants to keep her . . . forever. In Same Difference, 16-year-old Emily’s life changes forever when she ventures out of her New Jersey suburb to do a summer art program in Philadelphia. In addition to exploring her own talent, Emily learns to express herself in all avenues of her life.

These make an interesting pair—looking at them together reminds me that although they feature very different protagonists, these are both books about young women trying to figure out how much of who they are depends on where they come from. For Primavera, the safety that her parents found in fleeing Elysia (in the prequel, Ecstasia) feels claustrophobic, and she has to retrace the path of their escape to figure out for herself how to appreciate her peaceful and beautiful home. Emily, who has always felt quasi-satisfied with getting frozen mocha lattes at the local Starbucks and lying by the pool with her best friend, comes to see the limits of that lifestyle when she opens herself up to the people and experiences in Philadelphia, but she also sees how much of her really is attached to her childhood best friend, and her home town. Like Primavera, Emily has to leave home to fully appreciate the marks it’s left on her, and to revise them.

BLUE

Daughter of Smoke and Bone Laini Taylor The Marbury Lens Andrew Smith

Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor & The Marbury Lens, by Andrew Smith

blue

Tessa and I both like Daughter of Smoke and Bone a lot (see our 3-part conversation about it here, here, and here), especially because it’s set in Prague. Karou was raised by chimaeras, and now their whole world is threatened by a particularly attractive and vicious kind of angels and, of course, love. In The Marbury Lens (one of my all-time favorites by one of my all-time favorite YA authors), after undergoing a trauma, Jack arrives in London and is quickly drawn into the terrifying, war-torn world of Marbury, where he has to fight to survive—even if it means fighting his real-life best friend. And as the line between Marbury and London grows less and less clear, Jack isn’t sure if he can ever escape.

I like thinking about these books being friends. Like Jack, Karou has two lives as well: to her friends in art school, Brimstone and the other chimaera are just monsters she draws in her sketchbook; to Brimstone et al, her friends are like characters in a story she tells. And whereas for Jack two worlds blur together, for Karou, when Akiva enters the picture, she begins juggling three different worlds, all of which threaten to collapse. Where Jack is panic-stricken and uncertain how to negotiate these boundaries, Karou has always lived this double-life. These are both bad-ass books that negotiate the ways that each part of our lives influences the other parts, whether we want them to or not.

So, those are just a few of my kissing books. What about you—have you found any important resonances among books based on unexpected meetings? I want to hear about them in the comments. In case you need inspiration, I leave you with this magical video:

That Voice Inside My Head: A Review of Skinny & A GIVEAWAY

A review of Skinny, by Donna Cooner

Point (Scholastic), 2012

Skinny Donna Cooner

By REBECCA, September 7, 2012

hook

15-year-old Ever can’t make a move without hearing the voice inside her head—Skinny, who she imagines looks like a “goth Tinker Bell” (3)—that tells Ever that because she weighs 300 pounds she is disgusting, ugly, and unlovable. Skinny’s voice tells her that her mother, now dead, is the only one who could ever love her, that her crush could never reciprocate, that her step-sister, Briella, hates her, and that her best friend, Rat, only stays with her out of pity. Skinny’s voice even drowns out Ever’s own voice, telling her she can’t audition for the school musical even though she loves to sing, because people would make fun of her. So, when she is approved for gastric bypass surgery, Ever embraces it. But afterward, when Ever begins to lose weight, and people who have always avoided her are suddenly everywhere, how can she tell who likes her for herself and who just wants to be part of some kind of reality-tv-transformation? And can she hold on to the people who have always been there for her, or will she lose them too?

worldview

Skinny‘s worldview begins and ends with the territory of Ever’s mind and Skinny’s voice. We see each scene through Ever’s very limited, self-conscious perspective and Skinny’s comments to Ever intrude on those scenes like they do in Ever’s mind. Despite her obvious intelligence and her scorn for superficiality, Ever’s worldview is almost entirely occupied by her appearance and the appearances of others. Skinny’s voice equates beauty and thinness with the right to exist unquestioned in the world, the right to be loved, and the right to follow your dreams.The question that dogs us in the first half of the book, then, is what will Ever feel like after she has lost weight post-gastric bypass? Will Skinny disappear on the flip side?

Skinny Donna CoonerI’ll come right out with it: I picked Donna Cooner’s book up at BEA (Book Expo America) where it was featured in the YA Editors’ Buzz Panel (are we still using the word buzz?—ridiculous; but I kind of like it) and was pretty unconvinced before I even started reading. I am always apprehensive to read YA books featuring a fat protagonist because so often they are fat-shaming, food-punishing Cinderella stories in which the fat character can only succeed (in life, in friendship, in looks, in love) by losing weight. At the same time, though . . . it’s a topic that feels personal to me and has the power to evoke a strong response when I’m reading—sometimes negative and sometimes positive. Further, editor Aimee Friedman mentioned that Cooner herself underwent gastric bypass surgery, so I thought perhaps she would bring a particular perspective to the issue.

But . . . it didn’t, really. Ever’s approval for surgery felt extremely sudden and, while she does consider the potential scary downsides of the surgery, her decision to have it seems more like a decision to chop off your hair and get a makeover rather than to undergo a life-altering procedure. Ever’s father clearly wants to be able to snap his fingers and have his daughter be a “normal” weight—out of love, sure, but it all felt a bit creepy to me, particularly because Ever is so young and, I would imagine, her body is still changing.

what was this book’s intention? did it live up to it?

The Phantom of the OperaBut the surgery isn’t so much the point of Skinny. Cooner’s intention, I think, was to show the ways that self-consciousness is free-floating and extends so far beyond merely our physicalities that a physical change isn’t enough to change the way we feel about ourselves and how we can relate to the world. In this, Skinny really succeeds: anyone who has felt crippled by self-consciousness will recognize Ever’s manic vacillation between feeling successful and feeling hopeless. The persistence of Skinny’s voice forces Ever to confront the fact that Skinny’s voice is her own thoughts aimed like missiles at all her softest, most sensitive spots.

My favorite thing about Skinny is Rat, Ever’s best friend. He’s a smart, nerdy, tech-kid who cares deeply for Ever (even when she’s totally mean to him) and appoints himself her personal coach when she is recovering from surgery and trying to exercise. He makes a chart of her weight, her exercise goals, and the inspirational show tune that Ever chooses to represent the week.

Wicked musicalAnd it’s here that Skinny pissed me off: Ever is obsessed with musicals and she measures her progress in freaking show tunes! You know what that means? (Well, besides that she has great taste.) It means that she has a personality. A unique personality + passionate tastes + a wacky best friend + a lot of smarts should mean that Ever is a complicated, interesting character. In reality, though, the fact that Skinny‘s worldview is limited to/filtered through Skinny’s voice means that Ever is only her body. Cooner clearly has a picture of Ever that goes beyond what we get, which, ultimately, can be summed up by a few stereotypes: Ever feels like the cliché of the angry fat girl who feels smarter than all the pretty people and hates everyone because she experiences humiliation in front of them, so she keeps them at a distance.

DreamgirlsThat isn’t to say that Skinny is all negative, though, certainly. In the end, we get a definite glimpse of the ways in which Ever might be able to give herself a more interesting kind of makeover—one where she revises her relationship with herself to see herself as someone with talents and qualities that deserve more attention than her exterior. And, although that move comes too late to truly enjoy it in this novel, it’s a gesture in the right direction and I was genuinely moved by it.

So, although it wasn’t really my bag, I think Skinny is a book that will be powerful and meaningful for a lot of readers who are struggling with similar issues of self-confidence and self-consciousness. And, therefore, I want to give you a copy!

GIVEAWAY

Skinny will be released October 1st, but I want to give one reader the Advanced Reading Copy that I got at BEA! Fill out the form below and your name will be entered into the Reaping for your district . . . um, I mean, that is, uh, entered into the drawing! Remember to leave your email address so I can contact you. I’ll announce the winner a week from today!

procured from: BEA, in ARC form, with no compensation on either side

Note, September 14: And the winner of our giveaway is Joli. Congrats, Joli, and thanks to everyone who entered!

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